Doctoral education challenge paying off for state employee
Darrin Grondel isn’t one to shy away from taking on a big challenge. The Washington state employee just celebrated 24 years with the state in January. He will complete his Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in organizational leadership at Brandman University later this year. Grondel searched for nearly 10 years before identifying the right doctoral program that would accommodate full-time employment, academic excellence and provide opportunities for practical application of leadership theory.
Grondel said earning this degree is teaching him a great deal, not just about human and organizational behavior, but about himself. “I learned I can do hard things and survive,” he said. “Emotionally, I wouldn’t change anything, it has challenged me in every aspect. This program has challenged my assumptions, beliefs and application of leadership theory, redefining who I am as an authentic transformational leader.”
In Brandman’s doctoral program, students complete two years of concentrated coursework, applying what they’ve learned to a transformational change project. In place of comprehensive examinations, students are required to identify and complete an extensive project in their respective workplace. Grondel evaluated an existing initiative inside his agency to ensure its effectiveness. He also wanted to determine its strategic alignment with the agency’s management methodology, resulting in the implementation of his organizational transformational change project.
“This program forces us to be scholarly and stretch beyond the classroom learning and apply the knowledge,” he said. “It’s not just reading books, but learning new concepts and applying them to yourself and your organizations.”
Upon completion of the transformational change project and successfully submitting a dissertation prospectus, students are interviewed for advancement to candidacy. Doctoral candidates then complete their dissertation and orally defend their research before their committee chair and committee members.
“This degree is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” said Grondel. “What my project taught me is how important it is to consider all viewpoints, not just be on the balcony, but also being down on the dance floor and engaging with all groups involved.”
Grondel admits it’s a big load to carry while working a full-time job and meeting the demands of a large family. What helps, he explained, is the support of his family and the other seven students in his cohort, who he credits for helping him survive. His cohort started with eight students and only one dropped out of the program.
“At times, I thought about giving up because it would have been easier, but I didn’t,” said Grondel. “The students in my cohort supported each other and we helped each other through the hard times. We met both in person and online; the Brandman model works well. They really want you to be successful.”
With a bachelor’s degree in political science from Brigham Young University, and a Masters of Public Administration from Evergreen State College, Grondel plans to use what he’s learning in the doctorate program to expand his leadership, as well as his teaching capabilities. He’s already served as an adjunct professor for both Brandman and the University of Washington Tacoma. Once he completes the Ed.D. program, he wants to return to the classroom.
“I definitely want to teach again in the organizational leadership program or in areas to support the development of current and future leaders,” said Grondel. Eventually, he’ll teach full time when he retires and he’ll have the credentials to do it.
Another plus? Brandman offers full-time Washington state employees a 10 percent reduction in tuition. While Grondel calls the program “rigorous and extremely challenging,” would he recommend the Brandman degree?
“Absolutely,” he said. “By design, the Brandman University Ed.D. in organizational leadership encourages students to peel back the outer layers of the proverbial onion by participating in various self-assessments. That allows personal reflection on who we are as leaders, to discover our strengths and weaknesses, blind spots, vulnerabilities, and in some ways, valuing who we are to make a greater impact on those we lead.”
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